(Zohar Says) Burn Incense To Forge Bonds with Ein Sof (Coronavirus)


Reading around I learned something, this about the Zohar on the power of the Tabernacle-Temple incense and, today, regularly reciting the verses concerning it to stay the plague and all other demonic forces. The Zohar picks up its cue from Aaron who steps into breach between the living and the dead with a pan of burning incense to save the people from the divine rebuke of a pestilence. The incense is special, more beloved than all rituals and devotions. It is the flesh, as it were, that forges every single day binding links and bonds with the Ein Sof, that produces radiance and removes filth. In the Zohar, the “Preparation of the Incense” refers to those biblical verses that note the ingredients that went into the making of the incense. The main body of material is in Zohar 2:218b-219b.

Elon Gilad here at Haaretz refers to a passage from the Midrash Ha’Ne’elam portion of the Zohar that describes a ritual based on these verses. “In this case, the Zohar, which appeared in 13th century Spain, relates a legend about the 4th century Palestinian rabbi called Rabbi Aha, who arrived at a town ravaged by an epidemic. The townsfolk ask for his advice and he tells them to assemble their 40 most pious men in the synagogue. After they studied the Talmudic passages concerning the incense in groups of ten in each of the four corners of the synagogue, the epidemic stopped.” Gilad claims that this became a traditional ceremony, still practiced today.

Usually I prefer to transcribe this kind of material, but I can’t find anything readily online in English, so I decided to photograph and post below the pages from the Pritzker translation from the main body of the Zohar. The story about Rav Aha, alas, is from a volume of the Pritzker (vol. 10) locked away up in quarantine, up in Syracuse.


I’m being reminded that the Pitum Ha’Koteret was incorporated into the Ashkenazi and Sephardi siddur (prayer book). (You won’t find it in the Conservative Movement’s Siddur Sim Shalom). Shaul Magid is pointing me to b.T. Keritut 6a and Yerushalmui Yoma 4:4. for the original language brought into to the language of the Siddur. Note, however, that the point of the mishnah (2a) is to threaten with karet anyone who intentionally blends the Temple incense and anointing oil. In the gemara, the rabbis reveal the ingredients.

Keritot 6a:

ת”ר פיטום הקטרת הצרי והציפורן והחלבנה והלבונה משקל שבעי’ של שבעים מנה מור וקציעה שיבולת נרד וכרכום משקל ששה עשר של ששה עשר מנה הקושט שנים עשר קילופה שלשה וקנמון תשעה בורית כרשינה תשעה קבין יין קפריסין סאין תלתא קבין תלתא אם אין לו יין קפריסין מביא חמר חיוריין עתיק מלח סדומית רובע מעלה עשן כל שהוא ר’ נתן אומר אף כיפת הירדן כל שהוא

The Sages taught in a baraita: How is the blending of the incense performed? Balm, and onycha, and galbanum, and frankincense, each of these by a weight of seventy maneh, i.e., seventy units of one hundred dinars. Myrrh, and cassia, and spikenard, and saffron, each of these by a weight of sixteen maneh. Costus by a weight of twelve maneh; three maneh of aromatic bark; and nine maneh of cinnamon. Kersannah lye of the volume of nine kav; Cyprus wine of the volume of three se’a and three more kav, a half-se’a. If one does not have Cyprus wine he brings old white wine. Sodomite salt is brought by the volume of a quarter-kav. Lastly, a minimal amount of the smoke raiser, a plant that causes the smoke of the incense to rise properly. Rabbi Natan says: Also a minimal amount of Jordan amber.

ואם נתן בה דבש פסלה חיסר אחת מכל סממניה חייב מיתה רש”א הצרי אינו אלא שרף [הנוטף] מעצי הקטף בורית כרשינה ששפין בה את הציפורן כדי שתהא נאה יין קפריסין ששורין בו את הציפורן כדי שתהא עזה והלא מי רגלים יפין לה אלא שאין מכניסין מי רגלים למקדש

And if one placed honey in the incense he has disqualified it, as it is stated: “For you shall make no leaven, nor any honey, smoke as an offering made by fire unto the Lord” (Leviticus 2:11). If he omitted any one of its spices he is liable to receive death at the hand of Heaven. Rabbi Shimon says: The balm mentioned here is nothing other than a resin exuded from the balsam tree, not the bark of the tree itself. The Kersannah lye mentioned is not part of the ingredients of the incense itself, but it is necessary as one rubs the onycha in it so that the onycha should be pleasant. Likewise, the Cyprus wine is required as one soaks the onycha in it so that it should be strong. And urine is good for this purpose, but one does not bring urine into the Temple because it is inappropriate

From Jewish Virtual Library, the following information:

PITTUM HA-KETORET (Heb. פִּטּוּם הַקְּטֹרֶת; “ingredients of the incense”), the initial words of a baraita (Ker. 6a and TJ, Yoma 4:5, 41d) which enumerates the various species of incense offerings in the Temple service every evening and morning (see: Ex. 30: 34–38). In the Ashkenazi liturgy, this talmudic passage is recited on Sabbaths and festivals at the end of the Musaf prayer immediately after the *Ein ke-Elohenu hymn; in the Sephardi ritual it is recited every morning and afternoon. The custom of reciting Pittum ha-Ketoret is based on a quotation in the Zohar (to Num. 224a), where it is stated that a person who recites the section of incenses will be spared death (see also: Num. 17:12 and Yoma 44a). In Provence (southern France), it was customary to recite Pittum ha-Ketoret at the departure of the Sabbath, after the Havdalah service, as a good omen for wealth and prosperity (Abraham ha-Yarḥi, Sefer ha-Manhig, ed. Berlin (1855),

The Hebrew from the Ashkenazi Siddur at Sefaria is here:

פִּטּוּם הַקְּטרֶת. הַצֳּרִי. וְהַצִּפּרֶן. הַחֶלְבְּנָה. וְהַלְּבונָה. מִשְׁקַל שִׁבְעִים שִׁבְעִים מָנֶה. מור. וּקְצִיעָה. שִׁבּלֶת נֵרְדְּ. וְכַרְכּום. מִשְׁקַל שִׁשָּׁה עָשר שִׁשָּׁה עָשר מָנֶה. הַקּשְׁטְ שְׁנֵים עָשר. וְקִלּוּפָה שְׁלשָׁה. וְקִנָּמון תִּשְׁעָה. בּרִית כַּרְשִׁינָה תִּשְׁעָה קַבִּין. יֵין קַפְרִיסִין סְאִין תְּלָתָא וְקַבִּין תְּלָתָא. וְאִם אֵין לו יֵין קַפְרִיסִין מֵבִיא חֲמַר חִוַּרְיָן עַתִּיק. מֶלַח סְדומִית רובַע. מַעֲלֶה עָשָׁן כָּל שֶׁהוּא. רַבִּי נָתָן הַבַּבְלִי אומֵר. אַף כִּפַּת הַיַּרְדֵּן כָּל שֶׁהוּא. וְאִם נָתַן בָּהּ דְּבַשׁ פְּסָלָהּ. וְאִם חִסַּר אַחַת מִכָּל סַמָּנֶיהָ חַיָּב מִיתָה:

רַבָּן שִׁמְעון בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל אומֵר. הַצֳּרִי אֵינו אֶלָּא שרָף הַנּוטֵף מֵעֲצֵי הַקְּטָף. בּרִית כַּרְשִׁינָה שֶׁשָּׁפִין בָּהּ אֶת הַצִּפּרֶן. כְּדֵי שֶׁתְּהֵא נָאָה. יֵין קַפְרִיסִין שֶׁשּׁורִין בּו אֶת הַצִּפּרֶן. כְּדֵי שֶׁתְּהֵא עַזָּה. וַהֲלא מֵי רַגְלַיִם יָפִין לָהּ. אֶלָּא שֶׁאֵין מַכְנִיסִין מֵי רַגְלַיִם בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ מִפְּנֵי הַכָּבוד:

Ittai Hershman shared this photo from the Koren OU Sacks Siddur:


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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